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Darla Deardorff, AIEA, US

Name: Darla Deardorff

Occupation: executive director, Association of International Education Administrators

Location: US


"I’ve been working with UNESCO on various projects related to intercultural competence and global citizenship education"

“What is necessary for us to get along together?” Darla Deardorff asked members of the World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence at their spring meeting. Deardorff, executive director of the Association of International Education Administrators and a research fellow at Duke University, asserts that this question continually drives her research on intercultural competence.

Deardoff is the founding president of the Council – and she highlights the value of this work, given global tensions such as the war in Ukraine and increasing political and social divides.

She references Martin Luther King Jr.’s concept of a “Beloved Community”, indicating that it can only exist “when there is justice for all; a community where everyone is cared for, and where there is an absence of poverty, hunger, and hate”.

She tells The PIE, “It’s about meeting the needs of our neighbours, especially those who are marginalised and oppressed.”

Deardorff also drew on the teachings of Confucius, who, in ancient times, “talked about the importance of loving your neighbour. Love can begin with listening and seeking first to understand”.

“A loving community happens when we speak truth with love and empathy, and not with malice or harshness. A Beloved Community happens by caring deeply for one another as neighbours,” she says.

This is, indeed, difficult work. “Yet through community, we are called to bridge the gaps between the haves and the have nots, with real opportunities… elaborates Deardoff.

“It’s about creating more of the precious commodity we call hope – real hope for the forgotten, disadvantaged, and marginalised citizens of our communities, regardless of their race.”

She adds, “intercultural and global competence become key ingredients in establishing a Beloved Community, connecting with each other, and building relationships, which can lead to a deeper caring community focused on justice for all.”

“What changes are we making in our souls, and in our lives, to create a Beloved Community?”

“What changes are we making in our souls, and in our lives, to create a Beloved Community?”

Deardorff sat down with The PIE at NAFSA last week to discuss the purpose, goals, and current initiatives of the newly-minted non-profit organisation.

“The mission of the World Council is to connect researchers, students, practitioners, and policymakers across languages, cultures, and disciplines around the world, to further our understanding of practices of intercultural global competence,” she explains.

The “grassroots oriented, volunteer-driven” online group began by connecting doctoral students from different parts of the globe and “has continued to grow and evolve” across myriad sectors.

She adds, “At the heart of the World Council are over 20 working groups, and that’s really where the connections happen.” Each group focuses on a different aspect of intercultural global competence, such as assessment, virtual learning, and intercultural competence in the MENA region.

“The working groups have monthly meetings, speakers, or webinars, and colleagues join from all over the world. It literally is that ‘cultural exchange’, in coming together to try to understand how we can advance our own our own practice around intercultural competence in various contexts.

“We still have so much to learn from each other. And that cultural exchange helps make it so rich as we try to understand from different perspectives, ideas around diversity, and what it looks like in different contexts.”

Deardorff also spoke about the UNESCO Story Circles initiative the Council is undertaking.

“I’ve been working with UNESCO on various projects related to intercultural competence and global citizenship education over the last decade.” The background is that UNESCO was asked by member states or countries for a specific, concrete tool that can be used with any group of people, anywhere in the world, using little to no resources.

“And one that can be facilitated by anyone and didn’t [require] a special degree or training in intercultural communication. And what evolved was the UNESCO Story Circles, which is being used to train United Nations staff, UNHCR staff, and peacekeepers across the globe.”

Organisations from numerous sectors are now incorporating UNESCO Story Circles into programming “because they see how important it is to have these key intercultural competencies, such as listening for understanding, which we don’t do nearly enough of as humans. And connecting people in all these different ways can hopefully help build up the social fabric.”

“In the end, it’s really about connection”

Encouraging people from all regions and sectors to join the Council, Deardorff shares that the group is free and open to anyone who wishes to contribute in the co-construction of knowledge around intercultural global competence.

“We work together to try to learn from and with each other. And, in the end, it’s really about connection; building a better world and bridging divides.”

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